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Thread: Marcel Sleeuwagen (SS Das Reich - 08/01/1922 † 21/07/2018)

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    Marcel Sleeuwagen (SS Das Reich - 08/01/1922 † 21/07/2018)

    In July of this year Marcel Sleeuwagen died in his cosy home, one of the most pitoresque houses in his village located in my home area - despite efforts of the retirement home located nextdoor to push him out of his house so they could expand their business onto his property - he always refused and he kept playing "Flight Simulator" on his PC every day (lol) until he died. Except for the older villagers, no-one knew about Marcel's past as an SS volunteer and officer - and everyone remained silent about it. Although he was known by my dad's generation as someone who participated in the collaboration and my dad knew him as a youth, as Marcel lived only 200 meters away down the road, the nature of his allegiance to the Germans was unknown to my own father. He was one of the few Flemings who also fought in a regular SS Division, namely the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. After the war, due to the repression, he and many other German minded Flemings were excluded from Belgian society and forced to rely on their own wit and their network of SS comrades. It made him a very successful businessman, eventually selling his goods to the Belgian royals who considered him the best in his field.

    There are no articles online about his WW2 experience as he kept low profile after the war, yet I was informed about his past a week after he died.

    What is probably the biggest military bookshop in the world is located in Marcel's village, in the middle of nowhere, "De Krijger" (Der Krieger/The Warrior). It's a gigantic shop with book titles in many different languages (to give you an idea of De Krijger's size: they have an entire floor dedicated to wars in the Far West & the American Civil War alone), military buffs from all over Europe go there. Whenever I visit the place I go early in the mornings and stay until the owner decides to kick me out after ten hours of browsing through the bookshelves. Before Marcel died he did tell his story to the publishing company attached to the bookshop for one of their own publications. An elderly friend of mine, who is sculpturer, made an engraved stone with the SS Das Reich logo on it for Marcel a few years back. The son of the sculpturer, a youth friend of mine, is an illustrator for the publishing company of De Krijger. And he told his father a few of Marcel's incredible experiences on the Eastern Front and then his father told them to me. There's much more to be said about Marcel's war, but here are two amazing stories.

    The first story is set in Russia or Ukraine, in 1943 or 1944. SS Das Reich is retreating and Soviet troops are only a few minutes behind Marcel's unit which is fighting a desperate rearguard action. They decide to hide in the tower of an old wooden Russian or Ukrainian church. As they try to conceal themselves and remain as silent as possible, a couple of Soviet tanks halt in front of the church. The tankers sense something is amiss and one Russian opens the turret of his tank, climbs out of it and starts to explore the location. Aware they're gonna be discovered, Marcel decides to throw a grenade from the church tower into the open turret of the tank standing below the church - he hits his target and there's an explosion inside the tank. A firefight ensues, the church catches on fire, but they succeed in fighting their way out. During the fighting an Orthodox priest who is present in the church is badly wounded, yet Marcel succeeds in dragging him outside of the burning building. Later on, that Russian priest would become a very important patriarch. He probably owes his life to Marcel.

    That time Marcel Sleewagen saved Pope Benedict's life

    In 1945, in the final days of the war, Marcel and his men came across a bunch of very young members of the Hitlerjugend, armed with panzerfausts, awaiting the arrival of the Soviets in the foxholes they dug. Realizing the futility of their sacrifice and the utter hopelessness of their situation, Marcel told them to give their weapons to him and his soldiers, change their uniform for civilian clothes and then he ordered them to go home. Which they promptly did. One of these young boys was Joseph Ratzinger, the later Pope Benedict XVI.

    Marcel helped J. Ratzinger (pictured) to avoid captivity or worse this way. I wonder whether Benedict knows the guy who spared him a lot of trouble died in July of this year, most likely he doesn't. Marcel himself ended up in Soviet captivity and would spend another 5 years in one of Stalin's P.O.W. camps before arriving home.

    "If we were going to stand in darkness, best we stand in a darkness we had made ourselves.” ― Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

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